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Housekeepers of Saigon fight to survive in pandemic-ravaged market

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed Vietnam’s housekeeping market. Housekeepers, who used to have the upper hand in bargaining with clients, now have to scrape by to pick up jobs.

S.M is a housekeeping agency located on Quang Trung Street of Go Vap, a district of Ho Chi Minh City. On a July afternoon, their headquarters sees a wave of housekeepers searching for the slightest chance of work.

Thao, the director of S.M, is handling a barrage of calls from a basket of 20 different phones. Outside of her office, a massive amount of job seekers occupy the few chairs on either of the two floors, while others take any available floor space while they wait.

“[During this] pandemic, many clients have dropped out of the housekeeping service. Our agency headquarters have been jam-packed with people since social distancing,” Thao said.

“[Housekeepers] who are professional and hard-working are more likely to make it, but others who are demanding and quarrelsome with clients will probably find themselves coming back here. 26 housekeepers came to us just this morning, yet only four succeeded [in finding an employer],” she added.

Taking up a row of chairs at the corner of the room is a group of women. The group turns their heads in unison, casting the same investigative gaze at anyone who enters the door.

This tense atmosphere completely dissolves whenever a potential client is introduced. A lineup of aspiring candidates forms in no time, striking up conversations based on the job description.

An hourly housekeeper cleans the bathroom of her employer in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Le Van / Tuoi Tre
An hourly housekeeper cleans the bathroom of her employer in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Le Van / Tuoi Tre

The youngest candidate of the bunch, 38-year-old Hong Anh, had just been made redundant at a facility in neighboring Dong Nai Province after COVID-19 slowed production.

When asked about her family responsibilities, Hong Anh detailed, “I have been a spinster for ten years already, so don’t worry!”

Anh has been on the waitlist of S.M since April and has since gone on several jobs, yet was laid off from all of them because of COVID-19 social distancing.

S.M also works with experienced housekeepers with over 20 years on the job, one of whom is Be Ba, a woman from the Mekong Delta’s An Giang Province.

She has been let go by her clients as a kindergarten took over her job of childcare. Ba has been out of work for almost a month since.

Thao commended Ba as a shining contender for the job: “No husband, no child, no strings attached. She is reticent and affectionate to children.”

No choice to choose from

The situation is just as intense, though slightly less competitive at another housekeeping service agency on To Hieu Street of Tan Phu District.

Entering through the rear of the agency’s headquarters, job-hunting housekeepers come to wait and rest on one of a dozen mats on the floor since a new job could come at any time.

T.D, the agency’s name, is operated in the same manner as the aforementioned S.M: job seekers assigned to the facility receive free accommodation during their wait in-between jobs. They must be ready to take a job whenever it arrives.

A majority of the job-hunting residents came to T.D through social media or word of mouth. These agencies are referred to as “osin market 24/24” — with “osin” being a Vietnamese slang for a housekeeper first coined in the 1990s during the peak popularity of the Japanese TV series ‘Oshin.’

In terms of paperwork requirements, they only ask applicants to submit photocopied versions of their ID and household registration book.

Even if no identification paper is provided, the agents can still help them get temporary jobs such as patient care at hospitals — as long as applicants are always ready to work.

Trang, a 38-year-old Ho Chi Minh City native with no identification, explained her job, “If you have no ID, you can work like me: Getting paid VND350,000 [US$15.2] per day to take care of a patient at a hospital. The job lasts 10-15 days, depending on how fast your client recovers. The main duties are feeding and cleaning patients, [they are arduous] but well-paid.”

Mai, an hourly housekeeper in Tan Phu District, Ho Chi Minh City, struggles to find work during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Photo: Le Van / Tuoi Tre
Mai, an hourly housekeeper in Tan Phu District, Ho Chi Minh City, struggles to find work during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Photo: Le Van / Tuoi Tre

Though, there is no guarantee that residency at these systems will secure you a job.

A housekeeper around 60 years of age, commonly referred to as “Ngoai” — literally translated to “grandmother” — had been waiting at T.D for nearly a month.

Experiencing an overtly hostile working condition, she quit her last job after working for only half a month.

“I bought eight tickets on the number 279 [in a pick-three lotto] but lost with all of them. Should I have won, I would have gone back to my hometown and spent my old age in comfort,“ she jokingly said.

Another female housekeeper, who had just moved from the north-central province of Quang Binh, poured her heart about the struggle to make a living.

“Prior to this, I was working as a caretaker for a 90-year-old couple in Hanoi. It was tough, yet I only got paid VND5 million [$217] a month. Hence, I just called it quits and came here. By all means, Saigon pays better — I make about VND7 million ($304) per month,” she said, referring to the former name of Ho Chi Minh City.

Midway through the conversation, she turns her head to the door, her eyes looking for something a thousand yards away. The woman, along with all of the other housekeepers in Ho Chi Minh City, are carrying on with nothing being ensured.Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to get the latest news about Vietnam!



Singaporean man sentenced to death for drug trafficking in Vietnam

A court in southern Vietnam on Friday handed a Singaporean man the death sentence for trafficking nearly ten kilograms of methamphetamine from Cambodia to Vietnam.

The People’s Court of Tay Ninh Province in southern Vietnam on Friday handed down the sentence to Cher Wei Hon, 40, on the charge of illegal drug trafficking.

In July last year, border guards inspected a ride-hail car that was carrying the foreign man on a National Highway 22 section near Moc Bai, an international border gate between Vietnam and Cambodia located in Tay Ninh Province.

As they scrutinized the man’s luggage, officers found ten plastic bags containing a white crystal, according to the indictment.

Cher confessed to the law enforcement officers that the bags contain methamphetamine, a white crystalline recreational drug that is illegal in Vietnam.

The man said he had known a Vietnamese woman, identified as Quynh, in the Cambodian capital city of Phnom Penh from whom he borrowed VND200 million (US$8,600) but was unable to pay back the debt.

Consequently, Quynh demanded the man carry mobile phones, iPads and drugs from Cambodia to Vietnam to write off his debt on a gradual basis.

With each successful shipment, she would slash the debt by US$500-1,000.

The man admitted he had trafficked drugs between the two countries around five times by the time of his arrest.

Late last month, the same court sentenced a 27-year-old Cambodian woman to death for trafficking around five kilograms of methamphetamine over the border from Cambodia.

If the shipment had been successful, she would have received $100.

Vietnam adopts a harsh stance against drug violators. Those convicted of possessing or smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or more than 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine could face capital punishment.

Manufacturing or selling from 100 grams of heroin or 300 grams of other illegal narcotics are also punishable by death.

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Returnees from Da Nang can go to work after quarantine without COVID-19 testing: HCDC

Ho Chi Minh City residents who recently returned from the central city of Da Nang, Vietnam’s current COVID-19 outbreak epicenter, can get back to work after finishing the required 14-day quarantine regardless of their COVID-19 testing status, the Ho Chi Minh City Center for Diseases Control (HCDC) has said.

Those who have finished the government-mandated quarantine period and exhibit no disease symptoms are eligible to return to their offices, even if they have not been sampled for COVID-19 testing or have been sampled with results still pending, according to an HCDC announcement.

However, these people must strictly take preventive measures, including wearing a face mask when leaving their house or at work, not going to crowded places, not staying in close contact with other people, washing their hands regularly, and self-monitoring their health condition.

In addition, they must keep a detailed record of their whereabouts from the date of leaving Da Nang until their test results are available.

As of Friday afternoon, as many as 13,000 people in Ho Chi Minh City who had returned from Da Nang from July 1 have yet to be sampled for COVID-19 testing, while 3,000 samples have not been tested, HCDC reported.

The Ho Chi Minh City Department of Health has requested competent district-level agencies to finish sampling all the remaining returnees from Da Nang by Sunday, August 9, and release test results by August 11.

Currently, Ho Chi Minh City has 13 institutions, including eight hospitals, authorized by the Ministry of Health to perform the COVID-19 confirmation test.

Eight more hospitals are capable of conducting conclusive COVID-19 testing and pending health ministry authorization.

The southern metropolis has reported eight COVID-19 cases since July 25, when Vietnam’s first locally-transmitted infection after 99 days was detected in Da Nang.

The central city has since logged 235 infections and seven fatalities.

Nationwide, Vietnam has logged a total of 789 COVID-19 cases, of which 395 have made a full recovery and ten, with underlying conditions, have died.


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Vietnam PM says risk of COVID-19 community spread ‘very high’

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Friday warned of a “very high” risk of COVID-19 community transmission as he urged national determination, solidarity and responsibility over the next two weeks to stamp out the current outbreak.

The risk of the disease spreading widely in the community in Vietnam remains “very high” for at least the next two weeks, the prime minister said while presiding over a virtual meeting on COVID-19 response on Friday morning.

The number of community-transmitted cases in Vietnam has risen by 333 since July 25, when the detection of a 57-year-old male patient in the central city of Da Nang ended the country’s streak of 99 days with no local infection.

The government chief thus ordered authorities to take greater responsibility and more drastic efforts to contain the pandemic, especially in outbreak hotspots.

Greater determination, solidarity and responsibility from the “entire political system” is needed, he stressed.

Provincial and municipal leaders are permitted to decide on specific measures in order to promptly and effectively minimize infection rates while medical facilities must stay vigilant to prevent the emergence of new COVID-19 outbreaks.

Social distancing must be strictly implemented in all COVID-19 hotbeds and fast and precise testing is the key to contain the spread of the virus, Phuc emphasized.

Phuc also stressed the need to wear a face mask at public places and in big cities, manufacture ventilators, and stay prepared to set up field hospitals in such localities like Quang Nam Province and Da Nang, which are the hardest hit by the current COVID-19 outbreak in Vietnam.

Speaking at Friday meeting, acting Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long reported that the number of people having installed the contact-tracing app Bluezone, which was domestically developed to track down people having close contact with COVID-19 patients, has shot up recently, especially in Da Nang, Quang Nam, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and northern Quang Ninh Province.

Over 8.5 million people have installed the app as of Thursday, August 6. The Ministry of Health said the app needs at least 50 million active users to have a meaningful impact on contact tracing.

Notably, 21 cases of people with direct and indirect contact with COVID-19 patients have been traced through the app, Long said.

Vietnam has recorded 789 cases of COVID-19 as of Saturday morning, with 395 recoveries and ten deaths.

More than 166,000 people are quarantined nationwide at hospitals, accommodation facilities or at their homes.


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